Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a set of letters directed towards a mysterious woman, whom he calls “immortal beloved” in July of 1812. This set of letters, viewed historically as one letter, was found in Beethoven’s home and is now located in the Berlin library. It actually may never have even been sent. Beethoven’s letter is addressed to “k,” thought to be the place Karlsbad, which is two days away from Teplitz, and Beethoven departed for Prague and arrived in Teplitz during that time to become closer to nature and rest his health. Scholars have long debated over who the immortal beloved is, but cannot come to a final conclusion.
Addressing the letter to, “my angel, my all, my self,” he wrote ten pages in disorganized pencil handwriting (Cooper 224). The main women who are thought to be the “immortal beloved” are Julietta Guicciardi, Therese Malfatti, Josephine Von Deym and Antonie Brentano. Because he suffered from health issues regarding his hearing, he felt deeply isolated and lonely. He also had an abusive father in his earlier years, who may have had an impact on Beethoven’s almost bi-polar temper and emotions. Between 1805-1815, Beethoven did not compose as many pieces, perhaps due to his declining health and hearing, but he was not completely unproductive either, because he still wrote the Moonlight Sonata in 1801, the Waldstein Sonata in 1803-1804, Fur Elise in 1810, Die Runen Von Athens in 1811 and An Ferne Die Geliebte in 1816.
The letter may have served as a way to release tensions and emotions. After Beethoven wrote the immortal beloved letter, he composed groundbreaking pieces such as the Seventh and Ninth Symphony. Although the exact identity of the immortal beloved is still unknown, Beethoven left evidence of his loves through the dedications of some of his best works and clues about the nature of those relationships in the actual music.
Beethoven and Countess Julietta Guicciardi
Piano Sonata N.14 in C sharp minor, also known as the Moonlight Sonata, was dedicated to Countess Julietta Guicciardi, and reflects Beethoven’s sadness and desire to share his creativity with her after she chose to marry someone else. In 1801, Beethoven taught Julietta piano and they both had feelings for each other, but due to Beethoven’s status, she could not marry him. She remarried in 1803, to a Count Gallenberg. Beethoven wrote to Julia, “O God: So near! So Far! Our love, it is not a true heavenly edifice, firm as heaven’s fault? This is not the ravings of a romantic fool, but the weaving of a complex image of the yearning creative process” (Beaudry 2). He also wrote similar words in the immortal beloved letter that referred to heaven and says, “humility of man towards men — it pains me — and when I regard myself in connection with the Universe, what I am, and what he is — whom one calls the greatest” (“Letters of Note” 1).
The piece was composed in 1801, eight years before the Immortal Beloved was written and has three movements, adagio sostenuto, allegretto and presto agitato. The first movement can be characterized as largely hypnotic and emotionally evoking, partially due to the balanced right hand even eighth notes. The second movement serves as a break and is much lighter but contains a few sforzandos and even fortes, and the third is very lively and intense. Fast arpeggios and accented notes make up the majority of the movement, almost like Beethoven’s complex feelings were supposed to reach out to Julia and tell her how he felt without words.
This piece is groundbreaking and romantic because it varies in tempo and speeds up towards the end, and almost can be seen as autobiographical. After Beethoven died, a medallion portrait of Julietta was found right next to the immortal beloved letter, so she was held very highly in his mind. The Moonlight Sonata portrays his desire to present his creativity and intellect to Julia.
Beethoven and Josephine von Deym: Waldstein Sonata, Fidelio, and Andante Favori
In 1804-1805, Beethoven had a loving but brief relationship with Josephine von Deym, another of his other piano students, and during his relationship, he wrote Piano Sonata N.21 in C major and dedicated the middle movement, Andante Favori, to her. Many exchanges in letters occurred between the two, including 15 different romantic letters. In 1805-1807, Beethoven used intimate words in his letters to Josephine, such as “due” rather than the formal “sie,” which means “for you” (Cooper 225). Josephine fit the characteristics of an ideal wife for him because she was very much like Leonara, a woman in his opera, Fidelio. Beethoven wanted her character to be beautiful, brave and intelligent (Oakley-Beahrs 66). Although Josephine was in love with Beethoven, she did not want to marry him because she would have been forced to give up her children who were of aristocratic status.
The Waldstein Sonata
In 1804, Beethoven wrote Piano Sonata N.21, also known as the Waldstein Sonata, which is heroic and one of his most difficult sonatas. It has three movements; allegro con brio, introduzione: adagio molto and allegretto moderato- prestissimo. Andante Favori was written between 1803 and 1804 and was supposed to be the second of the three movements of the Waldstein sonata. But a friend of Beethoven told him that his piece was too long, and after some reflection, Beethoven took out the movement and replaced it with the Rondo.
The first movement of the Waldstein Sonata represents his change in feelings as they move through anxious rhythms and ascending and descending notes. There are also repeated notes in the right hand that are similar to the continuous repeating notes in Beethoven’s Fur Elise. The second movement is filled with calm and peaceful moments and serves as the introduction to the third movement. Finally, the last movement, the Rondo, begins softly, but then mounts with quick scales and trills. The listener is able to hear many triplets and trills throughout the piece, and then it slowly starts to die down, but of course the piece is not over. In the coda, Beethoven finally closes with large passages of opulence and magnificence. He created textures that had never been seen or done before and stretched even his own limits through intricate technique and emotion. Underneath the piece, especially in the third movement, the listener can hear his passion and the unrequited love that he faced.
Andante Favori was specifically dedicated to Josephine. It is written in F major and is in the tempo of andante grazioso con moto, which means moderately gracefully with movement. The movement definitely has a sense of relaxation. If Andante Favori had been the last movement of the Waldstein Sonata, the sonata would have ended very gracely and decreased in tension. Romantic thoughts for an ideal woman like Josephine would have been present as well.
In Andante Favori, the listener can hear very light, intricate parts that sound very much like a scene in nature. Perhaps this music depicts flowers glistening in the sunlight in the spring or a light stream trickling through, but it is up to the listener to determine what they want to get out of the piece. These softer musical pieces may have been how he wanted Josephine to see him, since she had seen him behave with terrible rage or temper. The Waldstein Sonata and Andante Favori embrace his amazing transition from the classical period to the romantic period, and show how he was able to express his feelings towards Josephine, especially in Andante Favori, knowing that he was unable to marry her.
Beethoven and Therese Malfatti: Fur Elise
Fur Elise, also known as Bagatelle N.25 in A minor, was written around 1810 and is believed to have been dedicated to Therese Malfatti. Therese Malfatti was a student of Beethoven, and he asked her to marry him around the time that he wrote Fur Elise, but she married an Austrian and state official instead. The piece also may have been named “Fur Therese,” but Beethoven did not include the recipient and year on the composition (“Beethoven’s Friends” 1).
Fur Elise begins with a theme that comes back many times throughout the piece and is structured in rondo form. There are two different parts, the B section, which is played very fast and portrays a happy and joyful scene, and the C-section, which is very intense with repeated eighth notes on the left hand. The eighth notes grow and expand in dynamics and end with A minor arpeggios, climaxing to a high level, and then chromatically descending to return to the main theme. The various levels of volume and tone of the piece portray the emotions that he may have been feeling which also increased and decreased at different times. Whether or not Therese Malfatti was whom Beethoven dedicated Fur Elise to, the player and listener are able to comprehend Beethoven’s emotions in the happy and melancholy parts of the piece.
Beethoven and Antonie Brentano
Lastly, Die Runen Von Athens and An Ferne Die Geliebte were written around the time that Beethoven was in correspondence and in a relationship with Antonie Brentano, another lover and the woman who is most likely to be the immortal beloved. Antonie and her husband had a strong relationship with Beethoven, and she and her husband went to Karlsbad for the holiday when Beethoven was in Teplitz. It is believed that they met up and spent some time together. Beethoven had strong morals and resolved to never have an affair with a married woman, but he could not help falling in love with Antonie. Throughout Beethoven’s life, he remained in a good-standing friendship with the Brentanos.
Die Runen von Athen Op.133 (The Ruins of Athens) was composed in 1811, right before Beethoven wrote the immortal beloved letter. Scholars have argued whether or not Beethoven composed the song to reveal his love for Antonie, but in 1812, Antonie wrote to Beethoven and requested the musical score (Cooper 222). Die Runen von Anthen has 11 movements and is very dramatic. It is based on two characters, Minerva and Mercury, who arrive in Athens and see the Parthenon destroyed and taken over by the Turks. Beethoven makes use of chromatic intervals and hectic rhythms while the two characters go to Danube. Unlike his other pieces, this music has many more morbid sections and is very stimulating. It truly crosses the line over into the Romantic Period with triumphant marches, fluttery flute trills and persuasive vocals. While it is unclear whether he dedicated the piece to her, the tragic and joyful moments that Beethoven presents in this work resemble his psychological state at the time.
An Die Ferne Geliebte Op.98 which means “to the beloved,” is a very short piece for voice, piano and guitar, and was composed in 1816. Overall, the piece reflects the themes of friendship, romance, and separation. The piece consists of six songs, which Beethoven called “Leiderkreis an die ferne Geliebte” which means a circle or ring of songs (“Beethoven’s Songs”1). The tempo changes and emphasizes certain vocal texts in order to highlight the main character’s desire for his lover while the left hand stays consistent throughout the piece and serves as a backbone. The first song reappears at the conclusion in order to form a circle. All the songs convey the theme of love, where the main character sits on a hill, and recalls vivid memories of his lover. He sings songs that portray his feelings as he suffers from separation from his lover.
Singing allows the main character to always be with his love and connects him with nature. Little brooks, birds and springtime flowers become apparent by the higher piano notes in each movement. This imagined main character greatly depicts Beethoven’s psychological state in the early 19th century because he was separated from Antonie and felt lonely. He loved nature and the themes deeply highlight his isolation, anguish and fears.
From listening to this piece, Beethoven’s audiences and listeners learn his great determination to continue writing and playing music because it revealed who he was and how much he loved Antonie. In a letter dated May 13, 1813, Beethoven is going through an emotional crisis and writes, “there is no longer any happiness except within yourself, in your art. – O God! Give me the strength to conquer myself, nothing at all must fetter me to life. – in this manner A everything goes to ruin—“ (Cooper 236). It is thought that the “A” is meant for Antonie and that Beethoven shows that he was determined to continue his work and not become burdened by his emotional pain. Music healed Beethoven and gave him a reason to continue living. Through Die Runen Von Athens and An Die Geliebte, the listener can see that Beethoven may have been recalling certain memories that he and Antonie may have experienced together.
The Seventh and Ninth Symphonies
Some of Beethoven’s best music was written after he wrote the immortal beloved letter, including the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies, which are said to deal with complex emotions as well as “express aspirations towards peace on earth and goodwill towards all human beings” (Sachs 1). He had finally reached a high level. Around 1812, Beethoven was working on the Seventh Symphony, which is extremely energetic and powerful. “The repeated emphasis on these two keys seem to provide a pointer to Beethoven’s next symphony,” which is in F and begun immediately after the Seventh (224). Surprisingly, this symphony contains humor with the different pulses throughout the piece, and it was not completed until October, after his letter to immortal beloved.
Audiences that listened to the Ninth took to the piece immediately and appreciated the soulful emotions. Beethoven said, “I soar above them as my music sores above the music of my contemporaries” (26). In Beethoven’s last music that he had wrote between 1820-1830s, he reached new heights because he accepted his health and the idea that he would never have the beloved women in his life. After all, Beethoven went out of his way to notate his music with dynamics, tempo and rhythm in order to convey his interior thoughts and tell his predecessors how he wanted the music to be played. The immortal beloved letter may have allowed him to confront his inner feelings, to realize that he will never marry and that he must continue living to write music.
Conclusion: What is Music?
“What is music? It is the power of music to carry one directly into the liquid state of the composer” (“Immortal Beloved”). Through the music that Beethoven dedicated to the women thought to be the immortal beloved, his listeners can better understand him as a person and a composer. While there is no conclusive evidence of who the immortal beloved is, or if he had any sexual relationships with her at all, listeners learn that he was able to express his feelings for her through his music. Beethoven stated, “the artist must often be able to resume all humors,” meaning that he would never reveal his true feelings and emotions in person, because it was not practical in the 18th century (Cooper 222).
The relationships that he desired with women were unattainable because he was not wealthy, and only considered low-class. Only through music was he able to depict his true self, and he strove to keep going to compose for others. He was a genius and a womanizer with a temper and tormented thoughts. Perhaps the letter allowed him to express his unattainable, idealistic desires and reveal who he was as a person. After all, Beethoven said, “I have to give everything I am” (Sachs), and he truly did this through his music.
Music listened to at imslp.org
Beaudry, Pierre. “Pierre Beaudry’s Galactic Parking Lot.” The Truth about
Beethoven’s So-called Moonlight Sonata. PIerre Beaudry, Web. 24 Aprl. 2015.
“Beethoven’s Friends.” Classic FM. Global Limited, 2015. Web. 16 May 2015.
“Beethoven’s Songs.” BBC News. Misha Donat BBC, 2014. Web. 20 May 2015.
Cooper, Barry. The Beethoven Compendium: A Guide to Beethoven’s Life
and Music. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
“Die Ruinen Von Athen, Op.113 (Beethoven, Ludwig Van).” – IMSLP/Petrucci Music
Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music. Creative Commons Attribution, 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 May 2015.
Immortal Beloved. Columbia Pictures, 1994. Film.
“Letters of Note: Immortal Beloved.” Letters of Note: Immortal Beloved. Ed.
Shaun Usher. TinyLetter. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/06/immortal-beloved.html>.
Oakley-Beahrs, Virginia. “The Immortal Beloved Riddle Reconsidered.” The Musical
Times. Vol. 129. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 64-70. Print.
Sachs, Harvey. The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824. London: Faber, 2011. Print.
Unger, Max and Frederick H. Martens. “The Immortal Beloved.” The Musical Quarterly.
Vol.13, Oxford University Press. 249-260. Print.
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